Enough Said (2013, Nicole Holofcener)

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Widely praised for what was reputed to be sharp, witty dialogue, Enough Said isn’t really such a far cry from a lot of visually flat, run-of-the-mill romantic comedies. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener continues to think of scenes and characters in a simplistic sitcom mold. The film is awkwardly directed and edited, with confusingly mounted Skype scenes and a general listlessness, and the script’s observant honesty is undercut by its strong sense of privilege, following yuppies around unironically and boasting more jokes about the incompetence of a Spanish-speaking maid than one would expect in 2013. If one is seeking out a vibrant, lucid script that sparkles, this is not where you should spend your evening, and it’s hard to understand why anyone made such a claim. The film has other valuable things to offer.

Holofcener doesn’t really have to create any excitement in this quite ordinary story, because that would rob it of its pleasingly low-key charm, in which guise it delivers exactly what one presumably comes to see and feel. It’s concerned with a freelance massage therapist (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who carts around town dealing cheerily with nincompoops and the aloofness of her soon-departing teenage daughter while beginning what seems a potentially long-lasting relationship with a big-hearted and sincere guy (James Gandolfini in one of his last roles) who has his own daughter problems as well as an apparently tiresome ex-wife. The central relationship is easily as convincingly mounted in its awkward, stumbling beginnings as its teenage counterpart in this year’s The Spectacular Now; in either case, the strangeness of getting to know someone intimately is presented with all of the off-moments, bloopers and underlying sweetness thereby entailed. After decades of movie sex either florid and stupid or condescendingly comic, perhaps the tide is turning toward a more realistic treatment of this major part of life in American film. Let’s hope.

In the meantime, Louis-Dreyfus’ Eva strikes up a friendship with a new client (Catherine Keener!) who enjoys a rather inflated ego, and strangely a career as a poet. Her home is all new-age decked-out yoga-mat stuff, and her constant complaints about her life start to put Eva in a strange mindset about the long history of dissatisfaction and failure in her own love life. That’s not much of a central conflict, but it gets more interesting and amusing as the film proceeds, natural and organic enough in its slightly tangled web, though no one will mistake it for, say, a James L. Brooks movie (which is probably one of the aspirations). Funny as it is, where Enough Said approaches greatness is in its acting.

The two leads are extraorinarily good. Gandolfini has received a lot of well-deserved notice for what is an unusual part, and not unusual in the way that his horrific misuse in Zero Dark Thirty was; direct, unfettered, almost eerily real, he indeed seems like a breathing person, his quirks and problems and controversial eating and sexual habits included, and he seems to warm up every shot he occupies. Louis-Dreyfus, meanwhile, will blow away anyone who knows her primarily for her TV work. On Seinfeld, she was very funny but played a one-note character, and here she is a complicated and fully-imagined human being who so believably dramatizes the sort of person (the person writing this very much included) who lets things lurch violently out of control before she gets a handle on them, and is as likely to let herself get stepped all over as to take simple steps to move out of the way of trouble and manipulation.

As you sit with this picture for the first time, if you don’t know a lot about it, you might well start to get especially excited during the opening credits as not merely the two aforementioned names flash by but also Toni Collette’s and Keener’s. A pity, then, that Holofcener stumbles and sadly underuses her supporting cast. Her partnership with Keener is long-running, so it’s understandable and thankful that she is not given the lead here, but she’s still depressingly wasted. The film would be stronger if she and the rest of the secondary characters were not ciphers (Collette being the stereotypical romcom “best friend” whose housekeeping problems and petty arguments with her husband form a bizarre subplot), its comedy-of-errors twice as interesting if it weren’t so clearly making fun of Keener’s pretentious Marianne.

Holofcener’s script features a lot of padding, but is admirably insightful insofar as its quite real investigation of the way adults talk about and consider past relationships, both their own and others’. A question Eva asks openly about whether anyone is just unlovable or not cut out for romance will ring with surprising power for everyone who’s dumped or has been dumped, which presumably is just about everyone watching the movie; as a sideline to its more direct pleasures, it has something worthwhile to say about compatability and expectations, and to boot in an age group for whom far too few films, especially romantic films that aren’t pandering nonsense, are written and made. Still, the emotional material is too telegraphed by music cues and overlong sequences of hazy goodbyes, and one too many ancillary stories — some drama involving a friend of Eva’s daughter spending lots of time around the house especially — are underdeveloped.

Finally, while I’m not generally bugged by spoilers, I think the film would play better without the one-line summary that’s floating around, as the central “twist” (if we can call it that) is the one thing that isn’t rather easy to predict and would come as a complete shock if one hadn’t learned it from the trailer and such. But no matter. This is no great shakes as a cinematic experience because its genre doesn’t reach for that sort of thing, and its screenplay could have been touched up and run with some of its stronger observations a bit farther, but in the end it’s pretty funny, not cheap or cynical, and features two genuinely wonderful performances, and a dozen more like it would be preferable to much of what plays at your neighborhood theater these days.

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